Read an excerpt from James Squire

If Squire was a chick flick fan he may well have viewed the events of Monday April 11, 1785, as a sliding doors moment. If you don’t get that chick flick reference I totally understand. Sliding Doors was a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and, really, no one needs to remember any of her films. Not even that one where she won an Oscar for a level of hammy acting not seen from anyone who isn’t Porky Pig. Basically this day was when one door closed for Squire but another opened.

That Monday in April 1785 was the day the law came down on Squire. At the incredibly longwindedly named General Sessions of the Peace for the Town and Hundred of Kingston upon Thames he was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. His crime, was highway robbery, and his haul was “four cocks, five hens and divers [and] other goods and chattels the property of John Stacey”. Yeah, he stole some chickens.

According to Mollie Gillen’s book The Founders, this Mr Stacey had just moved into Heathen Street, which meant Squire had ripped off his neighbour. That’s not a smart move at the best of times, let alone when you’ve swiped an animal that likes to crow all the time.

Stacey: Good morning, James. I hear you’ve got some roosters in the backyard.
Squire: Umm, yes.
Stacey: That’s an interesting coincidence, for until recently I too had some roosters in my backyard. Funny how I lost mine at exactly the same time you got yours.
Squire: Yes, yes it is. Hey, John, look over there. [Squire runs away]

Much has been made of Squire’s astonishingly bad luck when it comes to committing crime. He does it twice (including the 1774 charge) and gets pinged both times. But stop to think about this for a minute.

Doesn’t it seem a little odd for Squire to commit just two crimes a decade apart? Doesn’t it seem weird that, one day in April, Squire just out of the blue decides to steal some chickens? If you ask me, the answer to those questions is yes. We only know of these two instances (assuming the first charge even happened) because he was nabbed and appeared in court. An absence of any charges in the years between 1774 and 1785 isn’t proof that he committed no other crimes. Indeed, it’s just as likely that he committed other crimes in that period but was never caught.

Maybe I’m a bit of a skeptic but I lean towards the latter possibility; that Squire could have been guilty of more than just the two crimes we know of. He was managing an inn for a number of years that was reportedly the home of smugglers and other dodgy types. Keeping that sort of company makes it a bit hard to swallow that Squire managed to keep his nose clean for a decade and then woke up one morning and decided “bugger it, I’m going to steal my neighbour’s chooks”.

The idea that he committed only two crimes in his life, separated by a decade, and was so incredibly unlucky as to get busted both times is also a bit hard to swallow.